Meaningful Experiences For Medical School Applicants

“From volunteering on help lines, I became a better listener.”
“Joining the college debate team enhanced my ability to organize and present a case clearly.”
“Despite communication barriers, I made strong personal connections with my host family while studying in Costa Rica.”
I’ve done all these things. It’s obvious that they’re meaningful, right?
Well, not really. Sure, I’m showing where my skills came from, and that’s a start. But without any context, I’m not explaining why these skills are important. Significant. Special. Meaningful.
I’ve written previously about using your goals, values and personal qualities to make your experiences meaningful. Let’s take a closer look.

1) Goals: One way an experience becomes meaningful is when you can show how those skills helped you achieve a goal. For me, all of these skills – better listening, organizing and presenting arguments, and making connections with others – are meaningful because I always knew I wanted to work in a writing profession. Connecting with a client, listening to their stories and helping them present their “case” in a compelling way are critical to my success as an admissions context.
Your goal might be to captain the tennis team because you’re following in your older sister’s tradition. The skills you gained to get to this position are not as important as why you wanted to get there in the first place. Conversely, you might never have felt strong or athletic as a child, so running in your first marathon (or even 5K race) put a smile on your face. The resilience and time management that went into this achievement are important, but they’re means to the end result: crossing that finish line.
2) Values: Self-reflection on your values and beliefs reveals that you have a strong awareness of who you are, which is always important when you’re making a life-changing decision about your future. Sometimes an activity is meaningful because it challenges you to adjust your personal values or beliefs. Working with an international student association might expose you for the first time to people with different belief systems, forcing you to question and modify what you had previously believed to be true.
On the other hand, sometimes an experience is meaningful because it challenges you to stick to your values. Maybe you withstood pressure to drink alcohol while still coordinating successful campus events. Maybe you were tempted to overlook a friend’s cheating while you were a TA. Used effectively, a defense of your moral principles can make an ordinary event quite meaningful.
3) Personal qualities: Again, self-reflection is required to write about who you really are, but identifying your personal qualities and showing how they have become your strengths can make an outstanding story for your meaningful experiences. Your shyness might be overcome by a role in the school play, or it might help you empathize with the child in the pediatric ward who keeps to himself. Playing the “class clown,” which got you into trouble all through school, might turn out to be the thing that enabled you to connect with elderly residents at a hospice.
Finally, don’t be afraid to spell out the connection between your experience and your future career in medicine. The people reading your application shouldn’t have to do that themselves – and you don’t want to risk that they won’t. Emphasizing that your goals, values and personal traits all support your future role as a physician will make that important link in the reader’s mind.

 Originally posted at